Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What Makes A Job A Great Job

There are many recruiters who will call you and say, “I have a great job for you.”  When I was in advertising as an account guy, I used to get those calls a lot.  As a recruiter, I don't say that on a recruiting call because there are many good jobs, but few that are great. 
And besides, great jobs are a relative thing and very individual; what is great for one person may be less so for someone else. However there are elements which contribute to making a job great for most people.

I have given this a lot of thought and wanted to write about the elements which distinguish the great from the merely good.  These six elements are very personal and can vary from person to person. The confluence of all these elements must be there for a job to be great.

A company, in order to qualify as great, for me, has to have a defined culture.  Everyone must be moving in the same direction.  There has to be a system of beliefs, which comes from the very top down.  It can vary by company, but a true culture is one that is defined, believed and acted upon by everyone within the company. 

I remember one advertising agency where the HR director told me that they were building their culture and had free beer on Friday afternoons in their  lounge.  Free beer does not make a culture, but it is a nice perk. Free beer can be the manifestation of a culture, but in and of itself it is not a culture.

Culture must come from the top.  And it must be lived by all employees.  It should be manifest in the work, in the attitude and in the way that people interact with each other. 

I fully recognize that what is great for one person, may not be so for another.

People are critical to the equation.  The culture could, in fact be cutthroat or it could be nice, but the people have to reflect the attributes of the culture – excellence, creativity, passion and the desire to do good work, whatever the work is.  People must exude a sense of mission for the culture and for themselves.

I once worked at an agency which hired very bright people. I worked with three account supervisors (there were, maybe, eight at the agency) who went on to become agency presidents. I worked with art directors, writers, research people and media people who went on to become department heads and agency presidents.  It was a pleasure to work there because the people were bright, upwardly mobile and nice.

I you don't like the people, it cannot be a great job.

Of course, opportunity comes with growth.  As companies grow, their employees will have more opportunity.  But it also means a culture where people are allowed to succeed at what they do.  Failure is never an option, but the ability to try something new and not succeed is essential if there is to be opportunity.  Great cultures allow people the luxury to try to be innovative, smart and forward thinking.  People thrive in that atmosphere.

Great jobs are visible.  Visible to management, visible to the community at large.  (I recently placed a director of social media at a telecom company.  She told me that within four months of starting, her phone did not stopped ringing from recruiters, other phone companies and ad agencies.)

Having a good time is essential.  You spend more time at work than you do at home.  Work cannot be drudgery.  I once worked for a head of account management who periodically ordered pizza for everyone and who, once or twice a year, took all the available account people to the movies during lunch.  These things created a bond among everyone.  We worked hard, but we also played hard.

And the sense of fun created a cooperation among us all.  I could walk into any other account person’s office and bounce an issue or problem off of him or her.  It helped me to succeed.

The Work
It doesn’t matter what your company does –  making widgets, the law, advertising – the work has to override everything.  I recently read Fred Goldberg’s wonderful book, “The Insanity of Advertising” and he talks about being in the business for fifteen years and then going to Chiat/Day.  He discovered, for the first time, what advertising was all about.  The work came first at Chiat.

In the case of visibility, previously mentioned, the social media person received those calls because the work she is doing is great work and talked about throughout the telecom business, the social media community and the advertising business.

When every employee believes in the work, the job becomes more fun, the culture is defined and the people are all moving in the same direction.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Why Titles Are Important

The truth is, we all know that titles are unimportant.  Right?  What really matters is the function, the authority and the importance of a job. Money, too. The title is immaterial.  Or is it?

Most of my readers won’t remember the advertising agencies Wells, Rich, Greene or Messner, Vetere, Burger, Carey (The original name of what is now Havas, but even most people who knew Messner, do not remember Walter Carey, their original partner).  But both companies tried hard to make titles unimportant.  It was a really good try, but, ultimately, they had to give in.

At Wells, Rich, Greene, the iconic Mary Wells tried to make titles trivial.  Originally, everyone had a different title.  On one account, an account executive was called just that. On another, he or she would be an account manager and on a third, the title would be client liaison.   The same thing happened with more senior titles: one would be management representative, another would be management supervisor and a third would be group director.  The same thing followed in the creative and media departments.  As the agency grew, they actually ran out of titles and had to duplicate.

That lead to the real problem: people at comparable levels became jealous of each others title and it caused major issues among executives. And, on top of that, when employees prepared a résumé, their titles were so arcane that no one knew what their title meant.

At MVBC, they had no titles at all.  They patterned themselves after law firms, I had no issue with it but employees did. They felt they needed to tell their friends and family what they were.  When people wanted to look for a job, I would ask their money and we would create the title for their résumé that most fit their salary.

And therein lays the issue with titles.  It isn’t complicated: people need to have the reassurance that their friends, relatives, acquaintances and others know who they are and, possibly, what they do by their titles. That certainly includes those who might receive or review their résumés.  

I used to say to people who were leaving Messner, if you are making $50k you are an account executive.  If you are making $60k and someone works for you, you are an account supervisor (that is 1989 pricing). If you are making $200k you are a group director, which was their function anyway.  I would send out a résumé from WRG and the person’s title was account representative and the first question I would be asked was, “What does that mean?”  I would have to reassure my client that I was sending an appropriate candidate.   Years ago, the famous Chicago Ad Agency, Leo Burnett had few titles.  Account executives could be very senior.  Account supervisors had salaries which ran into the low $100s (high for that title, even today).  When a Chicago person came to New York, which was rare, I always had to explain to New York hiring managers or HR people what the Leo titles were and meant. It was always a problem.

Today, with the heavy emphasis on digital recruiting, titles are even more important because résumés may be read and screened by junior people who don’t know what an offbeat title is or means.  Or worse, résumés are often read by scanners which are programmed to look for specific titles and cannot interpret an offbeat title or one not programmed.  As a result, companies that do that often lose out on very good people.

In advertising, different titles may mean the same thing.  For instance, while account director is the most common title today for the level above account supervisor, at some agencies, the next level is a management supervisor or management representative.  Creative titles are also confusing.

The point of all this is that we are all human.  And everyone is not familiar with every organization or culture.  At virtually all law firms, juniors are associates, the next level up is associate partner and seniors are partners or senior partners.  When one looks at a legal résumé, it is not difficult to figure out the seniority of the person it represents.

In New York City, sometime during the 1990’s and the Koch administration, the city passed a tax on all corporate officer’s salaries.  Companies actually paid an extra tax on the salaries of their vice presidents.  To avoid these taxes companies dropped the officer’s titles. That is how, at some organizations, Ogilvy is a good example, the titles, “partner” and “senior partner” were born – they were not taxed.  That tax has subsequently been repealed, but many organizations still are reluctant to bestow officer titles.  People used to joke that in advertising, everyone was a vice president.

I have a number of clients, in and out of advertising, whose titles do not match common equivalent titles.  Believe it or not, it is very hard to recruit for them.  Someone who is seven or eight years in the business expects to have achieved a certain title level.  Someone who is a senior vice president, is reluctant to go to another company without a comparable title. Many people refuse to accept a title which lower that what they expected, despite the money, despite the function or authority.  It is most certainly understandable.

So titles may not be important within a company and a culture, but they are very important outside that company.  When creating titles, companies need to take recruiting into account.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Adventures in Advertising: The Lost Art Of Store-Checking

On my post about the need for strategic account people, I received a comment about store-checking.  I realized that store-checks have become a lost art.  But, once upon a time, visiting stores, counting facings, checking competitive products and talking to consumers as they bought yours or competitive products was part of every account manager’s job (clients, too and I don’t think they do it anymore, either).   

I can think of two stories I would like to share which illustrate the benefits from visiting stores and understanding distribution.

The first is the true story of the success of Pampers.  

I am not sure when P&G introduced Pampers, but sometime in the 1950’s.  The standard until that time was cloth diapers.  If families had the money, they had a diaper service which would pick up soiled diapers and deliver new ones each week. If not, diapers would be washed at home. Yuck.  But despite their obvious benefit, Pampers, the first paper diaper brand, did not do well.  As I understand it, Proctor actually considered dropping the product.  

Then, an account person from the Pampers’ agency, Benton & Bowles (subsequently D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles – DMB&B – now Publicis) was determined to figure out why they were doing so poorly.  He took a week to do a store-check across the country.  He observed that while Pampers had good distribution, its location within supermarkets was unfocused – it could be found everywhere and anywhere in the store without consistency - paper goods, convenience goods, drug products.  Sales were sluggish, probably because it was in a different location in every store, even within the same chain. The account person observed that every supermarket carried four or five brands of baby foods; most of these brands had identical product selections (strained peas, beans, carrots, etc.).  He made this observation and recommended to his brand manager that Proctor should try to get the stores to put Pampers in the baby food section, even if it meant removing one brand to make room.

Guess what?  When put next to baby food, sales soared.  That was in the early to mid-1960’s. The rest is history.

The second true story involved Eno Antacid in Canada.  

Eno brand antacid was number two behind Alka-Seltzer (they were/are similar products).  I forget what their share was, but it was significant. Suddenly, Eno share of market started growing in French Canada.  With each subsequent Nielsen report, sales and share kept increasing; this was highly unusual behavior for any well established and significant brand.  Warehouse withdrawals skyrocketed, but with no explanation. Neither the sales nor marketing people had any idea why this might be happening. The manufacturer couldn’t understand it and needed to find out why and what could or should be done about it  

The agency account manager and the client marketing director went to Montreal and Quebec City to figure out what was happening.  Three days of store checking in Montreal revealed nothing.  Store managers and clerks had no idea why sales were increasing, but store shelves showed considerable product movement. 

Then, in Quebec, on the fourth day, they got their answer.  

In a small independent drugstore, a grandmotherly looking lady was carrying about six packages of Eno.  They immediately asked her why so many.  Her response was incredible: “Why monsieur, it is a wonderful aperitif.” Eno had become a fad drink among people of a certain age.  The client and agency got their answer.  After some discussion, it was decided to let the fad run its course, rather than to try to advertise it (It would have been way off strategy).  And sure enough, after about eight or ten months, the fad was over and sales started to decline.

I was the account guy. And we got our answer through store-checking.

I am sure there are hundreds of stories about positive things that happened as a result of a store check.  Understanding sales and distribution was part of the strategic underpinning of the client/agency relationship.  It helped agencies to have a complete understanding of their brands and it helped build credibility for the agencies to sell good creative work.  But most important, it contributed to making agencies and their clients partners.

Agencies need to start doing this again. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Twelve Kinds Of People I Don't Like In Advertising

1.  Account People Who Don’t Learn Their Client’s Business 
Sadly, too many account people – at all levels – simply execute but don’t learn and think. They don’t think because they haven’t learned enough about their client’s business to be able to offer smart input and direction. I have occasionally met people who work on a brand and actually don’t buy or use it.

2.  Creative People Who Belittle Account People
It amuses me that when those same creative people decide to open a business, their first hire is always an account person.  Granted, there are bad account people, but good account managers are indispensable.

3.  Account People Who Don’t Listen To Their Creatives
Good creative people are inherently good strategists.  They should always be listened to. It isn’t a contest of wills. It is about selling products or services.

4.  Creative People Who Think They Have All The Answers
Good solutions can come from anywhere.  Sometimes, even clients have the answers.

5.  Client’s Who Don’t Listen To Their Agencies
Clients make products or services.  Agencies make ads and communications. To paraphrase David Ogilvy:  Listen to your agency; if what they recommend doesn’t work, get another agency.

6.  Agencies Who Don’t Listen To Their Clients
Clients don’t always know what they need, but they say what they want.  Strong account people should always listen to their clients and then reinterpret what they have been told so that their clients get both what they want and what they need.

7.  Planners Who Think That An Insight Is A Strategy
Insights sometimes make great executions or campaigns, but they are rarely a long-term strategy.  There is a difference and good planners should know it.

 8.  Account People Who Think They Are Strategic But Aren’t
Too many account people think “Tastes good” is a strategy.  Strategy is the underpinnings of a brand. Account people must learn strategy.

9.  Creative People Who Won’t Listen To Their Account People
There are many creatives who won’t listen to their account people simply because they are account people.  These kinds of creatives should not be in the business.

10. Agency People Who Do Bad Work
Last year I wrote about my creative partner, Ned Viseltear.  He had a wonderful expression: “If you don’t do bad work, bad work can’t get done.” If clients asked for stupid work, he would not do it.  Rather, he would do good work and explain why it was better.  He always got his way.

11. Agency Management Who Don’t Get To Know All Their Senior Clients
All too often I hear from senior people at agencies about their client getting a new CMO.  They tell me that unfortunately, the agency relationship stopped at the CMO level and now they are vulnerable  because they have no senior champion. Agency management should make itself invaluable with every level of client senior management and every client of the agency – large and small.

12. Management Who Don’t Know Enough To Back Off From Certain Clients
When I was in the agency business, I used to tell my creative partners that some clients would like them better than me. When it comes to keeping clients, there should be no egos.Clients should deal with people with whom they are comfortable. After all, it is a service business.  No agency manager should force him or herself on a client.  I can think of one huge account that was lost in the last few years, partially because the agency chairman forced himself on the client.
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